Spring – what a wonderful time! For the past two years, my journey to work consists of driving past miles of farmers’ fields, so when March comes along I find myself slowing down to stare at the beautiful baby lambs! Every year I do extensive research into finding out what farm will let me feed the lambs and get up close to them, but after a while, I never found anywhere that allows you to get really up close with them.
It wasn’t until one of my friends at work was talking about a farm she helps out on, with lambing season being one of the busiest times, the farmers are stretched out with caring for all of the ewes and babies. It was a dream come true when I was invited down for the day. She explained quite a lot to me about the lambs, most of the sheep would have twins, but you would get a handful of triplets and even a couple of quads! The healthy and happy lambs would stay with their mothers, however a couple would get rejected or the ewe just wouldn’t be able to provide for them all. This is where the farmers step in, it is extremely clear to see which triplet or quads were too small, so he would take them into his care, tubing and bottle feeding the, provide a cosy stable with heat lamps to ensure the get the best possible chance at survival.
Arriving after work for their 7pm feed, we entered the stable where the lambs were separated into groups, we had the bigguns (who could feed themselves), the middles and the babies (they all needed bottle feeding). It was so interesting when entering the bigguns unit, the lambs were so curious and saw the farmer as their mother (because he feeds them). They got extremely excited when we entered, nibbling on my parka jacket and rubbing themselves up against me, it was so magical to be surrounded by these curious animals who really wanted to just play. After their feed you can see how full their bellies are, they stomach expands just like us when we are bloated – super cute!
Next up was the middle group. Filled with medium size lambs, who were again curious and very springy! We bottle-fed the smaller ones to ensure they were getting enough milk, there was a couple of weaker lambs who we helped to their feet and encourage them to move around the stable. To bottle feed lambs, I thought it would be quite similar to feeding babies, but they do require a bit of force when getting them to suckle on the bottle. At first, they really love the warm milk and they can’t get enough. After three quarters of the bottle later, the lambs groan out loud to let you know that they are full. The bigger lambs were able to feed themselves from the teat’s nozzle, they all rush over in a hurry, push and shuv to get their first. Once full, the lambs become energetic, a couple can’t control their urge to spring and jump about, accidently kicking each other and crash landing. It was so funny to watch this happen, the lambs also seem quite surprised at their flips.
In this group, there was a female lamb whom we called “Geraldine,” she was a very calm lamb and she had a connection with a certain male who just happened to be the biggest of the group. He would walk over to Geraldine and barge her with his nose, he does this to get her to move so he can lay down and then would follow suit and lay on top of him, snuggling together to keep warm. I think they are exclusive, I mean they are tucked in the corner away from the group.
So onto the best part, the babies! This group consisted of about 20 lambs in total, who were all under 1-2 weeks old. They were a lot smaller than the biggens and a couple of these lambs were still quite weak. We had to bottle-feed all of the lambs here, so to do this we would sit the lambs in front of us, whilst holding them to keep them still. Placing the bottle upright, with the teat next to their mouth it was quite easy to get them to suckle – but you did get one or two awkward ones who liked to turn their head every time you went close. Typical – right? Once the lambs have had their first bit of milk, they are keen to have more and more. In the baby section, there was one black lamb who was a bit bigger than the rest, he was a curious little thing and kept following me to each lamb I was feeding, fighting to get the bottle from them to him. He would nibble on your fingers, ears, coat, cheeks, you name it – he wanted it!
Once we had fed all the babies, it was time to check the main barn. The ewe’s who had already given birth were together with their lambs, the ewe’s that were still pregnant were together in a pen. I wasn’t aware that they were pregnant as I was really surprised at the size of the sheep!! Yes, they look small in a field but up close, their stomachs are very wide, so to me it wasn’t that noticeable, (I don’t mean to insult any chubby sheep out there by the way.) We gave each mum and lamb water, bedding and food for them to be comfortable for the night. Whilst we were busy doing this, a sheep was pacing up and down, trying to get comfortable. It was laying on the ground and was almost making this heaving motion and that’s the key indicator that they are going to give birth!
Finally, the ewe got a comfortable position, which just happened to be right in front of us. She seemed a little confused, looking around at the ground trying to find her baby (she thought she had already delivered the baby already – please, it’s not that easy!). The farmer kept his eye on her and after a couple of groans, we could spot the water bag hanging, the contractions were regular and the lamb appeared out of the uterus in the normal delivery position, both front feet appear with the head resting between them. She did not need any assistance from us, she gave birth all by herself and the lamb was healthy. After the delivery process the ewe will usually take care of her own new-borns, it is best not to interfere. She cleans the lamb up, licking away any mucous that’s left. After around 20 minutes, the ewe was encouraging the lamb to get up and walk. It was not that easy for the new born at first, but eventually it managed to stable itself and it was clear that the urge to find milk was next on the agenda. Unfortunately we had to shoot off, the farmer stayed with the ewe for the next delivery and we heard that it all went well.
If you have young children, or are just incredibly curious about small fluffy things then I would urge you to take a trip to your nearest farm. I had such a wonderful time and I learned quite a lot from the whole experience! I am planning on making another trip there, so I will keep you updated!